An Ideal Husband

Last week I read an obituary for Martin D. Ginsburg, the husband of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Several things struck me about this obituary; first, he was referred to as a “Supreme Court Spouse”. How many men are known for their wives, let alone referred to as the spouse of an important woman in the title of their own obituary?

But more striking is the kind of man Mr. Ginsburg was. Justice Ginsburg described her husband as “the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain.” Early in the marriage, Mr. Ginsburg took over the cooking responsibilities when it became apparent that Justice Ginsburg had no interest in it.

The foundation of their relationship, they both said, was mutual respect and equality — and a willingness to share domestic duties.

Both Justice Ginsburg and Mr. Ginsburg made significant sacrifices in their personal and professional lives to accommodate the dreams of the other. Along with the two influential careers they both had, they raised two children and were happily married for 56 years.

Mr. Ginsburg said he was proud of his wife’s accomplishments and had no regrets about the compromises they made for each other.

“I have been supportive of my wife since the beginning of time, and she has been supportive of me,” Mr. Ginsburg told the Times in 1993. “It’s not sacrifice; it’s family.”

Reading this obituary made me hopeful; it’s proof that it is possible for both partners to to fulfill their individual dreams and still have a happy and functional home life. But it also made me a little sad that this kind of relationship seems so radical in the Mormon world-view and that LDS men like Martin Ginsburg seem so rare. I truly believe that if any culture should be producing men like Martin Ginsburg, it should be the Mormons.

I say this for a couple of reasons. Mormons are upwardly mobile people. Education and self-reliance are middle class virtues that our leaders emphasize on a frequent basis. As a result, a majority of the American membership fall somewhere within in this socio-economic class. LDS men are likely to pick careers in business or law because these professions allow for the support of a family.

More importantly, however, is the emphasis on family that is so integral to our religion and culture. The general authorities are constantly encouraging men to take an active role in their families. In the last two decades the rhetoric has changed to allow for the blurring of gender role lines. Mormon men are now told to do housework and change diapers, they are told that there is no domestic duty that is below them. And, of course, there is all that equal partnership rhetoric.

So this brings me back to my question, why aren’t there more Mormon men like Martin D. Ginsburg? Our culture is similar to the culture of the 1950’s that he came of age in. It’s not a question of socio-economic background since many Mormon men come from this same background. And if anything, Mormon men have an advantage in the equal partnership thing because of the directive placed on them by leaders of the church.

Can it be that the spiritual patriarchy that our religion practices is much more difficult to un-socialize than the secular patriarchy that Mr. Ginsburg would have grown up with in the 1940’s and 50’s? Does our schizophrenic emphasis on male presiding and priesthood power negate the good  of the equal partnership rhetoric?

I do think patriarchy is the culprit here but I’m not sure we can place the blame solely on the men of the church. When I was thinking about this problem I asked mr. mraynes why he thought there weren’t more Mormon Martin Ginsburgs? His response, there are plenty of Mormon men like Mr. Ginsburg, they just haven’t been encouraged to bloom by their wives.

mr. mraynes is a great example of this phenomenon. He grew up in a home and a church environment where equal partnership was combined with benevolent patriarchy. In fact, the patriarchy was so subtle  that he didn’t even recognize its existence until I came along. Had I been a more traditional woman, one who wanted a husband to provide and preside, that is exactly the kind of man he would have been. But I am not a traditional woman and I have demanded full equality. Our marriage looks a lot like the Ginsburg marriage and mr. mraynes has been perfectly willing to sacrifice so that we could achieve this. He believes, as Mr. Ginsburg believed, that “it’s not sacrifice; it’s family.”

I think mr. mraynes is probably right, most Mormon men would step up if their wives expressed a desire to pursue their interests outside of the home and emphasized the need to equally share domestic responsibilities. This leaves us, however, with the bleak reality that Mormon women have no use for men like Martin Ginsburg.


Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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28 Responses

  1. makakona says:

    you missed the best quote from him, found in an npr article:

    In recent weeks, facing a losing battle with cancer, Marty Ginsburg wrote to his wife that setting aside parents and kids, “you are the only person I have loved in my life. … I have admired and loved you almost since the day we first met at Cornell some 56 years ago.”

    Turning introspective about his own life, he told a friend, “I think that the most important thing I have done is to enable Ruth to do what she has done.”

    that last quote is killer. what a man!

  2. Corktree says:

    In my own small experience, when I wanted to go to 2 separate medical conferences in Vancouver, 4 days long each, my husband was very supportive and took over the household and childcare beautifully. He’s always been a natural nurturer and done his share of the workload around the house, diapers, etc, and I would say that in most ways, he is similar in that regard to the men we know in our ward. But when I told people that I was going to be gone for the long weekends, they were mostly shocked and appalled that my husband was being expected to “take over”. It was a bit unnerving actually to receive such a response.

    I think it’s that prevailing attitude that keeps things the way they are, at least in generally formal roles. If spiritual patriarchy is believed, then I suppose it WOULD make it harder to move away from than simple societal expectations. Of course, I would hope that my experience with reactions is not really the norm and just a symptom of my weird ward, but who knows?

  3. mraynes says:

    That quote is awesome, makakona! I can’t believe I missed it. Thanks for pointing it out! And I agree, Mr. Ginsburg sounds like an amazing man, my heart goes out to Justice Ginsburg for losing such a partner.

    Thanks for the comment, Corktree! I’ve had similar experiences to yours when I’ve gone out of town so unfortunately, it isn’t just your ward. I’ve always consider Mormons to be a people of paradox; most of us practice equality in our daily lives but when it comes to connecting our practice to our rhetoric and beliefs we can’t seem to do it. Until we stop believing that men have one role and women have another I don’t think we’ll ever be devoid of our prevailing attitudes, even if they don’t match the way we actually live.

  4. Jenne says:

    I’m realizing that my husband is more unorthodox than I thought. I’ve been so busy living life, doing the things that he supports me in, and supporting the things that he does is that I haven’t realized how out of the ordinary we are. Because to me, its ordinary. I haven’t sung his praises and try not to call attention to the efforts he makes because I don’t want to stigmatize it as different and thereby discourage him from keeping up with it. When we were dating he shocked me by saying “Of course, you’ll go to graduate school.” And when I did, pregnant through toddlerhood, he took over when I needed him to. And when it comes to doing a PhD, its a given that he’ll support me through even though he’s been hesitant and concerned over the timing if I were to do it now.

    Anyway, I’m starting to gush over my Mr. Ginsburg-esque husband. I think he is the type of Mormon man who is enouraging me to shine and I’m one of the Mormon women who is expecting (and trying not to discourage) him to let me be a complete person: a brain in addition to my female reproductive system.

  5. Just as a balance, I went out of town for four days this past weekend, and left hubby with the kids. Nobody (that I mentioned this to) in my ward found this odd.

  6. Alisa says:

    Thanks for this excellent article, Mraynes. This makes me love and appreciate my own husband so much.

  7. Carina says:

    I don’t really care for your final conclusion, I have to say.

    My father was a Martin Ginsburg and so is my husband. Many of the men I know are the same way–gladly doing their part so their wives can do what they need to do.

  8. Caroline says:

    great post, mraynes.

    “why aren’t there more Mormon men like Martin D. Ginsburg?”

    Like your husband, I would guess that it’s because we don’t have enough Ruth Bader Ginsburgs. So many LDS women are socialized to not take career seriously. It’s an ‘in case” kind of thing to them. If we produced more Ruths, women of passion and vision, with a determination to both serve their community and nurture their family, then we’d have more Mr. Ginsburgs.

    “Does our schizophrenic emphasis on male presiding and priesthood power negate the good of the equal partnership rhetoric?”

    Yes. Absolutely.

    I also see a problem in the fact that fathers are being encouraged to cross the traditional gender lines by changing diapers, playing with kids, helping in the house etc. But mothers are not being encouraged to cross their gender lines and go out and make a career or get a job. I’m waiting for people to realize that accommodation, support, and shared partnership can go both ways.

  9. My husband is Marty Ginsburg-esque in the way that he supports me to be myself, and in the way that he cares for our children. I’ve often said that it’s because he was raised by a gay father and PhD mother who did not live out gender stereotypes.

    Marty and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s daughter, Jane, was one of my favorite professors in law school. She looks very, very much like her father, and has some of his spirit.

  10. Bones says:

    Janeannechovy, my husband is this way too, thank goodness. Everything I am today and everything I have accomplished in our almost 28 years of marriage is directly attributable to his support of me. He is my help meet in every way. I like to hope that I am his, too. In my job, I have have had to travel overseas regularly and have since my children were babies. He doesn’t miss a beat in doing everything in my absence. People in the ward are fine now, but when our children were little, they acted as if he needed their help with the kids, the house and meals. He was highly offended by this.

    What I find really remarkable about Mr. Bones is that he was raised in a family where patriarchy reigned supreme (and still does).

  11. EmilyCC says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this post, mraynes! I was listening to his obituary on NPR Saturday morning, and my husband came in to find me crying (the quote makakona listed is the one that got me going). It was a beautiful tribute as both a celebration of a unique couple and a celebration of what a solid marriage can be.

    I, myself, have been guilty of trying to keep the gender roles separate most of the times I go out of town. I arrange babysitting, I make meals, even though my husband is perfectly capable (and in fact, prefers–he usually cancels the babysitting and the meals go untouched) in doing my job.

    But, I think that’s where the problem lies. I have made sacrifices to stay at home and make the home my sphere of influence, so it hurts to know that Nate can go build financial models (which I can’t do) AND be the stay-at-home parent.

    Caroline is so right…we Mormons have taught the men how to cross gender lines, but we don’t allow the women to do the same. I think that leaves the men overburdened and the women wondering what their unique contributions are.

  12. Dee says:

    I’ve experienced in our Mormon culture that we’re hardest on ourselves and each other in many ways. There’s a tendency to judge personal choices whatever they may be. It’s a way of maintaining order and the status quo.

  13. mraynes says:

    Jenne, isn’t wonderful when you discover your husband is more wonderful than you could ever have imagined? Thanks for the comment.

    I’m glad you didn’t have a negative experience when you went out of town, mydearuniverse. I think it’another s always important to point out when there are positives. Each of us has had a range of experiences with the church, some positive and some negative. They all deserve to be validated.

    I’m glad you liked the post, Alisa. Thanks for your sweet comment.

  14. mraynes says:

    Carina, I’m not sure you understood my post. I agree and stated that there are plenty of Mormon Martin Ginsburgs, as evidenced by all the comments on this post singing the praise of their husbands. Obviously you have a husband and a father who are wonderful, supportive men, that’s great! But not all Mormon women have this same experience. My conclusion was a pithy way of saying that Mormon women need to take some responsibility for the kind of man/husband/father they want their partner to be. I truly believe that if we are honest about our needs with our husbands then they will do everything in their power to meet them, regardless of the ideal gender roles preached by the church. So no, not all Mormon women have no use for husbands like Martin Ginsburg but there are plenty of patriarchal married men in this church who prove that their wives have not asked them to be anything different.

    Thanks for the great comment, Caroline! I think you neatly summed up the point I was trying to make: there aren’t enough Martin Ginsburgs in this church because there aren’t enough Ruth Baders in the church. This is patriarchy’s fault, women are not given the encouragement to go out into the world and find the things that truly make them happy and this in turn effects the development of men. I, too, am waiting for that day when both genders are encouraged to develop all divine qualities, regardless of whether they are traditionally male or female qualities. I think we’ll be a better church and a better society for this.

    janeannechovy, what a neat experience to have Jane Ginsburg as a professor! I think you’re right that men who have not been raised with traditional gender roles have an easier time breaking out of the socialization. That being said, I do think it’s easier to de-socialize ourselves than we think, as evidenced by Mr. Bones. Thank Goodness!

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Bones. I’m so glad your husband has turned into an amazing partner despite examples to the contrary. Men like him give me hope.

    Emily & Dee, I’m running off to yoga so I will respond to your comments when I get home. I think they’re both profound and want to give them due consideration. Thanks!

  15. jks says:

    Interesting post. My husband is supportive of me and what I want to do. Things may not always come naturally to him (whether because of his gender, socialization, or because his family was broken?), but when I tell him he needs to step up and parent because I can’t, he does.
    Unfortunately (from your point of view) I seem to not have a passion outside of taking care of my family to take up my time and attention. I am unwilling to sacrifice my mothering role in order to pursue a career. When you’ve got a good thing going, it’s tough to mess with it.

  16. Naismith says:

    If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have said my husband was a Martin Ginsburg as well. What happened to change that? Well, it’s never been a matter of his heart, just his ability to pitch in. Big church callings that kept him busy every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at least, as well as all day Sunday and lots of stray other days (yesterday was an Eagle court of honor). He has served as a bishop and high councilor to a remote branch.

    We do have paid cleaning help so that I am not stuck with everything (which I think the church should provide for every family in that position!). And we are blessed in many ways. Also, I have to say that when he was released for a while and I was ward RS president, he was totally supportive.

    But I think those time-consuming callings can really throw a family for a loop. He still cooks dinner on Saturdays, to try to set a good example. But he is no longer able to do dishes most weeknights, when he has to jump up and race out the door.

    Should a couple turn down the opportunity to serve as bishop so that he can continue to wash the dishes every night? It just didn’t seem a good enough reason to us.

  17. Mraynes says:

    Emily, thank you so much for your honest comment. I think its perfectly natural to feel protective of your sphere, especially if the home is where the majority of your energy is spent. I’m not sure exactly how to negotiate this problem, nobody wants to feel expendable, I guess you just have to find as much balance as is possible for your family. What do you do to allow Nate to be present in the home without feeling like you’ve made yourself redundant? I think a lot of women struggle with this and I don’t have a good answer.

    Thanks for the comment, Dee. I think your comment is spot on I’m just not sure if it is directed at me in some backhanded way? If it is, let me reassure you that I am in no way trying to judge other women’s choices. I recognize that there are women who really do not want a Martin Ginsburg for a husband, what they want are clearly delineated roles and to have a husband who is a patriarch in every sense of the word. It wouldn’t be my choice for a marriage but I respect another woman’s right to choose this. I believe all women have the right to follow the dictates of their own hearts. This post is really a response to several conversations I’ve had with women in my ward who want a more egalitarian relationship with their husbands but have no idea how to get it. As I’ve said here and what I’ve said to them is that we have a responsibility to articulate what it is we need to our husbands. If we don’t do this, we cannot blame our husbands for modeling patriarchal behaviors that are part of Mormon culture. Anyway, I hope that makes sense and if I was completely off base in thinking your comment was about me, please forgive me.

    jks, I would never presume to have a point of view that would render you passionless. 🙂 I know that there are women who feel great fulfillment and passion through mothering/homemaking and I think that is exceptionally honorable. That being said, one of the failings of this post is that it comes from the point of view of a woman who has split her energies between home and career. Like I said to Emily, I don’t know how to negotiate a balance for feeling fulfilled by staying at home and encouraging all of the nurturing and egalitarian qualities that my husband has. It sounds like you have discovered a system that works for you, perhaps you would be willing share? Thanks for the comment.

  18. Dee says:

    Oh not all directed at you in a backhanded way! I loved your post – I was actually agreeing with you. I don’t always express myself as clearly as I’d like. Thank you for your thoughts – I enjoy the dialogue here.

  19. mraynes says:

    Thanks, Dee! I have a horrible habit of projecting; now that I go back and read your comment, it’s perfectly clear. And like I said before, your observation was spot on.

    hmmm, interesting question, Naismith. I think a couple should make a joint decision on what’s best for the family. If the wife’s mental health requires her husband being home every night to wash the dishes then maybe the husband should be willing to turn a time intensive calling down. I also think it depends a lot on what stage of life your in; if your kids are almost grown or out of the house, obviously there is more time to give to church callings. But if you’re in my stage of life where I have two very active and demanding toddlers, it would be an overwhelming burden to have mr. mraynes gone four evenings a week on top of his work schedule. Personally, I think bishops, stake presidents, general authorities need to be more responsible in who they ask to fulfill big callings. In my ward there are several men who work 70+ hours a week, have young children and have big callings. I don’t think there’s any excuse for this, find somebody else and let that man be as present of a husband and father as he can be. What do you think?

  20. CatherineWO says:

    I too heard this obituary on NPR last weekend and was very touched. I was also struck by the fact that she was present for the closing court day on Monday, because she said it was what Marty would have wanted her to do.

    Naismith’s comment touched a chord with me. I have a wonderful husband, and I think our marriage started out as pretty equitable, but church callings soon got in the way. My husband was called as a bishop when our four children ranged in age from 9 months to 8 years and he served for five and a half years. He also had a job that required him to be gone some evenings. The only time the children ever saw their father was on Saturday mornings (when we took the phone off the hook for several hours). He never even considered, as an option, turning down the calling, but there were many, many times during that five and a half years when I contemplated going to the stake president and asking for his release, but I wasn’t sure I could live with the guilt if I did. It was a horrible time for us and permanently scarring for our children, one daughter in particular who felt abandoned by her father and still feels that way over twenty years later.

    When our two youngest children were teenagers, my husband served seven years in a stake presidency, in an area where the stake building was an hour’s drive away. Again, they saw him only on weekends. My children love their father, but no one has to wonder why they seldom call or email him, though I have almost daily contact with all of them. It made me angry all those years ago, but now it just makes me sad that he had so little to do with their lives. And my graduate degree and teaching/writing career? Well, that fizzled before it had hardly begun, given up because someone had to take care of the children, paint the house, feed the animals, meet with teachers, etc., etc. He is now just starting into his ninth year of serving in yet another stake presidency, and we are both looking forward to his release in the next year or so.

    I don’t know what the answer is to this problem, but I do think there needs to be more balance between church needs and family needs. I admire the Ginsburgs for their seeming ability to balance family, careers and public service and think there is much to be learned by examining their example and that others like them.

  21. Kelly Ann says:

    Wow, mraynes, thank you for this thread. It is an interesting balance a couple has to strike particularly within the church.

    While some see me as career driven, I am actually embarrassed to admit that I let some opportunities pass me thinking I would ultimately fill a traditional role. Now not knowing if that opportunity will ever come, I dream to be a more ambitious woman and hopefully lucky enough to find a man as described who will balance my ambitions.

    I have found more success in a measure of that balance in dating outside the church. While men are taught to help, most of the LDS guys I know have been intimated by a measure of ambition. I just started dating a guy who I really connect with and who I feel would support me but it is hard not to be able to share religion.

    In regards to the comments about callings, my gut response is that it would be a very different world if women were in more leadership positions and specifically bishoprics and stake presidencies. At that point, the men would be forced to step up.

  22. Jessawhy says:

    This is a beautiful post and it sparked a great discussion with dh.

    The issue of church callings is particularly difficult for me. It’s hard to have my husband gone all the time with his calling as EQP. Luckily it’s not as busy as Bishop or Stk Pres. I hope that’s not in our future. I’m not sure how we would negotiate it if it was.

  23. Maria says:

    I hope this doesn’t come out sounding harsh, but I sometimes struggle to have compassion for women who complain that their husbands aren’t treating them as equal partners. I have a few friends who like to point out how “lucky” I am to have a husband who does more than 1/2 the cooking, shopping, cleaning, and other household duties. And how lucky I am that he supported me in my graduate education and my current career.

    This is all luck? Really? While I admit DH was pretty great when we got married (I wouldn’t have married him otherwise!) he did not come into the marriage with these behaviors and attitudes ingrained. He actually came from a home where his dad, to this day, brags about having never changed a single diaper (and, FYI, my FIL just finished his third term as bishop).

    Rather, we’ve worked this out as we’ve made our way along, and we’ve both learned and made adjustments appropriately. Early on in our marriage, when it seemed I was doing a disproportionate share of the domestic tasks, or that my goals were being subrogated to his, I spoke up. I communicated my feelings about how this made me feel. I challenged his preconceptions on about everything relating to gender roles. And that process was painful, and it sucked, but you know what? DH realized that some of his assumptions about gender roles were wrong. And needed to be left behind.

    And it has worked both ways. When I wanted to get out of doing the finances, changing tires, unclogging toilets and mopping up poopy water (gag!), rewiring electricity, etc., DH has been right there, communicating his feelings to me about how he doesn’t like being stuck with these tasks, just because he is a man and my dad did those things around my house. So I’ve learned. And adapted. And left some of my old attitudes behind.

    I know this doesn’t have application to abusive situations (which really need to be addressed separately), but for the most part I think we “buy and pay for” the gender roles we assume in our marriages. If you don’t like how things are going in yours, you need to step up to the plate, overcome your fears, and talk about how you feel.

  24. CatherineWO says:

    I agree with you 100%, Maria. And I think this is what others have said in this thread, that the reason there aren’t more Martin Ginsburgs in the Church is because there aren’t women like his wife willing to speak up for themselves. If I had 37 years of marriage to do all over again, I would definitely do more of what you are suggesting (and what you have done, which I think is great).
    I did complain a lot to my husband about the enequity in our marriage when we had young children and he was bishop, but I stopped short of digging my heels in the sand because I couldn’t really see a solution. Part of the problem was his own perception of gender roles (he too had a dad who bragged about never having changed a diaper or even having fixed a single meal for himself in over forty years), but my husband was not entirely unwilling to change (as he demonstrated in later years). There simply were not enough hours in the day for him to help at home, work for a living and do all the things that were expected of him as bishop. So our family (and I) drew the short straw, so to speak. Looking back on it, I’m not even sure where to put the blame or how we could have changed it, other than asking for him to be released or never accepting the calling in the first place. Yet Church leaders persist in calling young men to these kinds of positions. Our current bishop of four years was called at the ripe old age of 27 with a wife and two children (now there are four or five). Someone has to be bishop, right? This is a bit of a thread jack, so I won’t go on, but suffice it to say that I think church callings add a complication to the whole question of equity in marriage.

  25. Olive says:

    So its the fault of the women if their husbands don’t naturally encourage them to follow their dreams, or they don’t naturally desire an equal partnership? Ugh. This post is a miss, sorry. 🙁 Definitely needs to be rethought and rewritten. Shame on Mr Mraynes!

  26. Cassie Lynne says:

    As long as a husband can put his wife and her needs above church culture (and has the ability to observe), his wife won’t have to wistfully wish for a Mr Ginsburg. Looking at the Ginsburg relationship as a role model would be encouraging, as the couple’s relationship would be progressively becoming more whole.

  27. Maria says:

    CatherineWO –

    I hear you on how big callings throw a wrench into the discussion. My DH was called as BP (later became bishop when we became a ward) when we had only been married a few months (we were were both 25). Yikes! I’ve said this before in other posts, but I remember a dark night when I was scrubbing the toilet while DH was at a stake meeting, and wondering out loud if this was what women were relegated to for eternity. Cleaning the toilets while the men are off doing important spiritual things. That was a defining moment for me. I started demanding that DH play a greater role in accomplishing the mundane tasks of our household. If our marriage was a preparation for eternity, I wanted to see some equity, and see it now.

    Looking back, I probably dug my heels in a little too much and drew too many lines in the sand. DH says those 5 years were the hardest of his life…and much of that due to me issuing ultimatums.

    Sometimes I feel guilty about that. And wonder if he could have accomplished more as bishop if I had been more of a “model wife.” But ultimately I think I had to be true to myself and the way I believed I should be treated. I know that women have more value to the kingdom and their marriages than just scrubbing toilets.

  28. Mike says:

    My wife is very Ruth-Ginsberg-esque, which is one of the main reasons I fell in love with her. As an LDS man I love that my wife shares economic and domestic duties with me because it eases what would traditionally be our burdens. It takes work, but it’s a blessing.

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